My mother is an aesthete. It is safe to say the same of my father, even though his taste is much more modest and subtler than my mother’s. Their marriage was made in the 80s, traditional in all its glory, and I allow myself assume that her glamour augurs very well with my father and her expressions of style are within the boundaries he permits.
During PTA meetings in primary school, I remember her being the only mother I saw in a pair of trousers. It was in the early nineties and trousers for women had not yet sat full-bottomly in the psyche of our society. The idea still perched timidly in the minds of a people as puritanical as the ones I grew up around. Up till now, early morning preachers who make their morning cries with loud megaphones in the wee hours of the day still sermonize that women who wear trousers and paint their nails are mammy-water and will burn in the lake of hell.
But my mother was steps ahead in her sartorial taste and paid no heed to anyone’s opinion. She wore those trousers with insouciance and glitz in spite of anybody’s gored ox. I remember her younger self with nails long and well groomed and always painted red. On Saturday afternoons, the smell of cortex would waft through her door and when she laid the last coating, she brought her nails close to the bedside fan to dry.
As a child I was uncomfortable with my mother’s adornments: the hands full of rings, the heels and most importantly the trousers. The kids from school would often tease me because of my mother’s trousers and I would go home and ask her not to wear them again to my school but of course she never listened to my whining.
My big sister took after my mom. An Ibo proverb says, a snake does not fail to give birth to a long offspring. My big sister is the apple that fell close to the tree. As her fortune would have it, she almost shares the same size with my mother and gets frequent hand downs of various articles of clothing.
But there is always this apple the wind blows to a different trajectory and it finds itself landing quite far from the tree. That far flung apple is the seed of the tree yet not close to the tree.
I am that apple.
While my mother’s style is often very chic and fanciful, I resonate more with vintage items and androgynous pieces, say a pair of oxford shoes and round glasses that borrow their inspiration from the seventies. And this is where we often dispute. When I still lived at home, our arguments often start with her saying:
“Where do you think you are going to wearing that?”
“You cannot see what your mates are wearing?”
“Where did you buy these shoes that look so manly? Is that what is reigning now?”
And to have the household’s god of fashion question your choice of outfits was enough to knock all the wind off your sail. Most days I will sneak off to wherever it was that I was going to in order to hide from her scrutiny. Often times I tried to dress to please but I gradually began to tire in my need to make an impression to her. Heels will never be my go to shoes and I am too handy a person to keep up with the fad of painted nails. Fashion and style are vast enterprises with wide spectrums, making room for not only the sultry fashionista but also the tomboyish dresser. One woman’s style is never superior to another’s.
I will never deny that my awareness of fashion came from my mother; from watching her lay another coating of maroon lipstick or seeing her wear an extra puff of Elizabeth Arden’s 7th Avenue. Even though we most times do not always see eye to eye, I am learning daily to embrace my own style with all my might whether it sits well with her or not. Style is personal and I will not borrow another’s expression.